Wednesday, May 16, 2007

ABC "20/20" Special On Faith in America

Just a Comment……..

Cannot let pass an opportunity to add my ‘two cents worth’ to the current buzz concerning ABC Television’s 20/20 program on Friday, May 11. The topic of the two-hour special edition was religious faith and its various expressions and complications as seen in the United States.
In our monastery we watched the second hour of the program which we had video taped. I had visited the website of the program read some narration and watched a video clip, therefore I knew what to expect. The media is rarely interested in middle positions on any matter even though the center is broad and held by the majority. Rather, the media is interested in extremes at both ends. From the video clip I saw at the website, I concluded that the producers were interested more in titillating than inspiring. The sisters interviewed at the Poor Care Monastery in Roswell, New Mexico fairly oozed with over sweet spousal imagery. I do find this imagery privately appealing but to the general audience it must have seemed quite a perversion of human sexuality. There was excessive attention given to the superficial (straw mattresses, bare feet, restricted reading and family visitation, the 'cool' habit, etc.).

They also visited the Trappistine Monastery in Wrentham, Massachusetts which is much more forward thinking. But the differences between the two monasteries were not sufficiently brought out.

The segment about contemplative nuns was bracketed by stories which added to my unease. One concerned "Little Audrey" a young woman who, as a child, drowned in the family pool and was brought back to life but remained in a vegetative state. A cult gradually grew up around her and the holy images in her house that produced oils, etc. She died recently. The segment following the nun piece also ended the program and was concerned with Catholic exorcisms done in Europe and this country. Focusing on one case in Connecticut, they interviewed the priest exorcist and presented him as a regular Catholic priest. I later learned that he is a sedevacantist (the position that the last valid pope was Pius XII) and should never have been presented as a 'mainline' Catholic priest.

The contents of the segment on nuns and the nature of the stories bracketing it indicate the unfortunate sensationalist tone of the coverage. It was a great disappointment. Interviews with four young women considering entrance into the Roswell community were very real and honest but one wonders about the staying power of intense counter-cultural religious fervor and attraction to superficialities like ‘cool’ habits, routines and mannerisms. It seemed an isolationist spirituality with little depth and did not reflect in any way the call to deep interior conversion accomplished, at least in part, by the commitment to community life, the arena where the rubber hits the road.

In the meantime we look forward to viewing "Into Great Silence" in a local theater next month. Hopefully this beautiful silent documentary produced at the monastery of Grande Chartreuse will provide greater inspiration than ABC Television's misguided effort.


Moniales said...

Well, did we expect anything else!
I heard from Wrentham and 20/20 failed to mention that of those 7 women who were there (not at Roswell) 2 are entering,1 is an observer and 1 an associate! They purposely didn't mention this!
We watched Into Great Silence Sunday afternoon. I'll be interested in hearing your comments.
We found it very boring! Groning failed to get "inside" the monks which is where the real life is!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about the ABC program because, honestly, I was surprised that more has not been written by others. I noticed that there was a small paragraph early last Saturday from Wrentham saying that although they did not see it, they hoped they did not offend anyone; the paragraph was removed. I believe that you are right: the essence of the contemplative vocation was left out in order to sensationalize the program. The comments left on the ABC website appeared to me to be quite positive which sort of surprised me.I find your writing to be refreshing and with substance. Thank you for taking the time to share your reflections! 60 minutes should consider interviewing you...You could set them straight!

Barbara said...

I appreciated your insights as well. You make a lot of sense. Alas, the media only takes time to examine the superficialities.
And I think you will find Into Great Silence quite amazing. It is more of an experience than a documentary film. I can't wait to read your review of that.
I saw it last Christmastime here in Montreal.